OS X El Capitan is a free update to Apple’s OS X operating system, and it is available for download from the end of September 2015. It is the twelfth major upgrade to OS X for Macintosh desktop and server computers. This release sports a 10.11 version number and is an aptly named evolution of Yosemite (OS X 10.10).
OS X El Capitan is named after a large vertical rock formation located on the north side of Yosemite Valley in the Yosemite National Park (California). El Capitan translates as ‘The Captain’, and was such named by the Mariposa Battalion in 1851 when they were scouting the valley. Measuring nearly 3,000 feet from base to summit, El Cap’s sheer granite face is a popular destination for rock climbing and base jumping.
Where OS X Yosemite introduced many new features, OS X El Capitan primarily concentrates on enhancements and refinements to performance, stability, design, usability and security, with further improvements to some native apps. It was first announced in June 2015 at Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference.
OS X now supports Metal which is a proprietary graphics API that yields improved gaming and professional application performance. In addition to Apple’s own systems, it is also available to developers for use in third party apps. This means replacing OpenGL, which is currently the multi-platform, industry-standard graphics API.
Graphic capabilities have also seen some gains on Macs with an Intel HD 4000 GPU through an increase to maximum VRAM allocation from 1024 MB to 1536 MB. Other performance enhancements being touted include significantly increased speed when launching apps, viewing messages in Mail, and opening PDFs.
Design & Usability:
Mission Control under Apple’s OS X El Capitan has undergone some refinement. Mission Control provides users with a convenient overview and ability to rearrange currently active apps and virtual desktops by pressing the keyboard Mission Control button, setting a keyboard shortcut or swiping upwards on your trackpad with three fingers. In an effort to simplify things, El Capitan allows you to drag an app to the top of the screen to deposit it onto another desktop, as well as condenses the other spaces to their titles to provide users with a more complete overview. Mission Control also no longer stacks app windows on top of each other, and those windows try to stick closer to their original locations.
OS X El Capitan brings in a new feature that allows the user to snap windows to the edge of the screen to create a side-by-side split view between two windows or two applications. This is not a new innovation though, having been seen previously in Windows 7 (and later Windows versions), as well as in several Linux desktop environments. In OS X, an app can be dragged onto another full screen app to trigger a horizontal split between the two where the boundary can be further adjusted to make one occupy a larger area.
Worth also noting is that the system has a new look as the typeface font has been changed from Helvetica Neue to San Francisco. There are also 150 new emoji. And for users that sometimes find themselves losing their cursor they may now move the mouse back and forth (or similar gesture on the trackpad with your finger) to temporarily enlarge the cursor.
Mail and Messages have had gesture functionality added by Apple that allows users to delete or mark conversations and emails on multi-touch devices. Swipe left to delete a message and swipe right to toggle a message between read and unread. OS X will now also parse individual emails and export that data for use in other applications, such as adding meeting dates to Calendar as events. This intelligent language crawling only happens in the local Mail client and nothing is uploaded to their remote servers.
While Google’s effort is still the preferred location and mapping solution for many people, Maps is still under constant development. It has been enhanced to include public travel information and transit directions for certain cities. Users may also plan their journey on their Mac and then export that information to their iPhone.
OS X has revamped the Notes app to add more robust text-processing capabilities, including photos and videos, digital sketches, inline webpage previews, map locations and further media and document types. Users can also use the Share function in other apps, such as Safari, to import links and media into Notes. Also included is the ability to sync your notes over multiple devices via iCloud. It basically turns Notes into a competitor to Evernote.
The Photos app has seen some new additions too, including the ability to sync your iPhone’s photos with your Mac via the iCloud Photo library. Photos provide you with new tools to sort albums or to organise select groups of images. If you are taking photos with the latest iPhones those pictures will also show up in Photos via the Live button. Extensions to enhance the editing process can be added from third party app developers that can add functionality to Photos from those third party apps or as standalone extensions.
The latest version of Safari incorporates the ability to pin frequently visited websites to the tab bar (such that it just shows the favicon), as well as mute individual tabs playing audio (both features already seen in other browsers). Video streaming to an Apple TV is now supported via AirPlay without broadcasting the complete web page (similar to Google’s Chromecast). Extensions for Safari have received an overhaul too and are now signed and hosted by Apple themselves under the Apple Developer scheme. Safari also receives built-in support for content blocking, which is an advantage for ad blocking developers. Finally, Safari Reader has added more display options.
Spotlight, OS X’s desktop search feature introduced with 10.4 Tiger, has been further revised to provide more contextual information as well as improved search capabilities in relation to natural language queries. Spotlight will even offer up results from general web searches. The Spotlight window can additionally be resized and moved.
OS X El Capitan has fixed WiFi problems that existed with OS X Yosemite by reverting back to mDNSResponder for network connectivity. It also incorporates fixes for installation issues and Microsoft Office 2016 crashes. This major update does also contain a lot of smaller fixes. If you are still experiencing bugs or issues in OS X Yosemite, then this update may solve your problems.
Apple has introduced a new security feature under OS X El Capitan by the name of System Integrity Protection (SIP), also known as ‘rootless’. This prevents other processes, even those run by a user with root privileges, from accessing or modifying system files, folders and processes. SIP is enabled by default but can be disabled if the user so wishes.
This latest version of OS X also now uses LibreSSL instead of OpenSSL. LibreSSL is a more secure open-source implementation of the SSL and TLS protocols, which was forked from OpenSSL in the aftermath of the Heartbleed vulnerability saga of early 2014.
El Capitan can be run on any machines that are currently capable of running Apple’s OS X Mavericks or Yosemite. The following is a list of supported machines and devices, but if your computer is close to the cut-off then you may wish to engage in further research to see if other users of similar machines experienced any problems.
- iMac: 2007+
- MacBook: 2009+
- MacBook Air: 2008+
- MacBook Pro: 2009+ (13″), or 2007+ (15″ and 17″)
- Mac Mini: 2009+
- Mac Pro: 2008+
- Xserve: 2009+
However, it is worth noting that while it will run on many of these older computers, not all features will work. The following list specifies the requirements for features such as AirDrop, Handoff, Instant Hotspot, and the new Metal API.
- iMac: 2012+
- MacBook (Retina): 2015+
- MacBook Air: 2012+
- MacBook Pro: 2012+
- Mac Mini: 2012+
- Mac Pro: 2013+
The update consumes about 6GB of storage and is downloaded via the Mac App Store.
Users ought to take several precautionary steps before updating their system to Apple’s new OS X El Capitan version.
- Familiarize yourself with the new features and changes. While El Capitan has largely the same look and feel as its predecessor it’s still wise to learn about the differences ahead of time.
- Check online for any problems. Unless you upgrade straight away, you will have the opportunity to do some research and see if any other users have experienced any significant problems. This is a large update and bugs can and do slip through the cracks.
- Make sure your system meets the minimum requirements and is compatible with El Capitan. If your machine is running either OS X Mavericks or Yosemite then it should be capable of running El Capitan.
- Check that you have enough disk space to accommodate the update. The very minimum is 6GB of free space, but it is a good idea to try for 15GB+ just to ensure you run into no issues.
- Ensure that your important and needed apps are compatible. Some apps will work without needing an update, but users should still check compatibility with the individual app developer websites. You may wish to delay your upgrade if any are not compatible and there is no update yet.
- Back up your system. Sometimes things can go wrong so don’t underestimate the importance of being able to restore your machine and data back to an earlier state. You may use Time Machine, a free utility included in OS X.
- Completely charge your portable device or plug it in before you begin the update process. Low battery will likely cause your MacBook to fail the update or, worse, corrupt the system. This is both unnecessary and avoidable.
- Schedule enough time to complete the update. You will want enough free time to familiarize yourself with the changes, as well as to resolve any resulting issues.
- Understand how to troubleshoot any problems. This includes knowing where to find resources for doing so, including Apple’s own community forums and the Mac and OS X subreddits. Problems are generally not unique and a solution may already exist.
- OS X El Capitan is a free update
- It is familiar to existing users of OS X Yosemite
- Many desirable enhancements to performance, stability, design, usability and security
- Mission Control has some useful improvements
- Split view is well implemented
- Closer integration with iOS
The Not So Good:
- Updates to some Apple’s native apps still don’t improve them beyond (free) third party alternatives
- Maps new transit information is only limited to a few cities
- Waiting for developers to enhance their apps to take advantage of the Metal API
While not the most exciting update, if you own a Mac you will likely want to get this. OS X El Capitan user feedback has largely been positive for Apple, with popular support for the enhancements that it brought. El Capitan feels faster, smarter and sleeker and it integrates a lot closer with iOS.